It's Not Your Hijab
It's the Theology: In Praise of Wheaton College's Stand
It was an issue that would not easily go away, and only intensified last winter. Aside from murder and mayhem in our streets and, of course, global warming, what galvanized CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, Time, NPR, USA Today, The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Salon, and even news sources like Business Insider? Presidential primary madness? Gay "rights" and same-sex everything? Christian "homophobia" and conservative "hate crimes"? Gun control? Medicalizing marijuana? Perhaps pro-life "fanaticism"? Alas, it was none of these. What aroused the ire of all these outlets—as we've all surely heard by now—was the "scandal" (so Time) that engulfed the Evangelical college in suburban Chicago and leading member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), Wheaton College.
The specific source of moral outrage among these gatekeepers is that the college's administration had the audacity to require an accounting of individual faculty members on the basis of a Statement of Faith that all faculty voluntarily affirm and sign both upon commencing their employment at the college and on an annual basis. (This practice, of course, is a standard feature of many CCCU member institutions.)
In brief, the Wheaton controversy concerns a formerly tenured professor of political science, Larycia Hawkins, who gained national attention by pledging to wear a hijab, the traditional Islamic head covering, during the 2015 Advent season as a sign of "solidarity" toward her "Muslim brothers and sisters." The controversy reached a climax on February 6 with the college's announcement of a "resolution" by which Hawkins would be leaving Wheaton's employ.
But there is more than meets the eye here, hence the need for a rehearsal of developments leading up to Hawkins's termination.
In statements posted December 10 on Facebook, Hawkins wrote:
I don't love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American. . . . I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendents of the same cradle of humankind—a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014. . . . I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.
The allusion to the pope apparently was in reference to comments he made during his visit to the strife-torn Central African Republic, a country that since early 2013 has been caught in an endless spiral of violence and bloodshed between Muslims and Christians that has left thousands dead. While visiting a mosque in the CAR's capital of Bangui, the pope responded to a speech by Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi by noting that "Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters." Because of this, he insisted, "those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace."
Pope Francis's statements aside (as well as the fraternal and not doctrinal context in which they were uttered), Wheaton took issue with Hawkins's bottom-line confession that "we worship the same God," which is at best debatable—needing severe qualification—and at worst theologically deficient. This theological controversy, of course, is by no means new. There is, after all, fourteen centuries' worth of history between Muslims and Christians, including an ongoing history of martyrdom, that calls for some accounting at both the theological and ethical levels. In any event, on December 15, based on disaccord between Wheaton's Statement of Faith and Hawkins's public theological pronouncements, the professor was placed on administrative leave.
J. Daryl Charles is the Acton Institute Affiliated Scholar in Theology & Ethics. He is the author or editor of twenty books, including Retrieving the Natural Law (2008), Natural Law and Religious Freedom (2018), and, most recently, Just War and Christian Traditions (forthcoming). He is also co-editor of Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace: God's Gifts for a Fallen World, Volume 3 (2020). He is a contributing editor to Touchstone.
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